Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas
There is nothing new under the sun, a cliche that British writer Steven Poole examines in great detail, specifically in the area of ideas. Current innovations that are now broadcast as brilliant findings actually have a history of having been seeded in earlier times. In the realm of evolution, the now well-regarded biologist Lamarck in the late eighteenth century had his theory of acquired characteristics ruefully dismissed, yet his notion of environmental influence on genes has now been revived in epigenetic research. A new viable anti-malarial drug was developed from a plant described in an ancient Chinese textbook. Before bacteria were recognized as carriers of disease, Semmelweis instituted a regime of disinfectant hand washing and was laughed out of the medical profession. Greek philosophers pondered the makeup of matter, which developed into atomic theory. A tract written by a Chinese general around 500 BCE included strategies that are still used by the military, bankers, and criminals. The name Tesla should call to mind both the far-seeing inventor and the auto that honors his name. New ideas need time to mature, and their rawness frequently chafes the unexposed spectator. In this lengthy review of current innovations, the author advises us to first review the history of the idea to see how it has adapted to the prevailing culture.
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